At the start of his 19-year playing career, Barry Larkin never considered the possibility he would end up in Cooperstown, N.Y.
But that is where Larkin will find himself Sunday entering the Baseball Hall of Fame representing the only major-league team he ever played for, the Cincinnati Reds.
As a player, Larkin watched other Reds greats like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez receive their induction to the Hall of Fame. Did he ever expect to join them with a plaque in Cooperstown?
"Absolutely not," Larkin, 48, told MLB.com. "I grew up idolizing those guys and watching the Big Red Machine. As a ballplayer, I often thought about being a good player. I thought about being an All-Star. I thought about winning the World Series. I thought about just being really good. But those guys were at a totally different level."
Larkin, a 12-time All-Star who led Cincinnati to the 1990 World Series title, will become the ninth player to enter the Hall of Fame listing the Reds as his primary team, joining Bid McPhee, Frank Robinson, Edd Roush, Ernie Lombardi, Eppa Rixey, Perez, Morgan and Bench. Manager Bill McKechnie also joined as a Red.
Sunday's induction ceremony will be broadcast live on the MLB Network and MLB.com. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m., with the ceremony getting under way at 1:30.
Though he never anticipated getting to Cooperstown, the idea of "Barry Larkin, Hall of Famer" is starting to grow on the Cincinnati native. He encountered several baseball luminaries during the Hall of Famers golf tournament Saturday.
"Al Kaline just walked up to me and said, 'Hey, how did you shoot today buddy?' (I said), 'Pretty good, Mr. Kaline, thank you,'" Larkin told MLB.com. "I saw Bob Gibson the other day and said 'Mr. Gibson.' He said, 'I'm Bob.' I'm like, 'OK, Bob.' I came up here for orientation five, six weeks ago, and it was great. Still at that time, it was kind of a concept. Now it's a little more tangible. I think it's a little more special for sure."
Larkin, who will be enshrined Sunday along with the late Chicago Cubs great Ron Santo, is the 24th shortstop elected to the Hall. He is also the 48th Hall of Famer who played his entire career with one club and the third to do so for the Reds, joining Bench and 19th-century second baseman McPhee.
Larkin, who retired after the 2004 season with a .295 career average, 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs and 379 stolen bases, starred during the steroids era, which has cast a long shadow over the selection process for the Hall of Fame. Larkin received 51.6 percent of the vote in 2010, his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, 62.1 percent in 2011, and he made the grade this year with 495 votes (86.4 percent).
"It was a great run. I was really happy how I was able to stay there (in Cincinnati)," Larkin said.
Unfortunately, Santo didn't live to experience what will be a special day for his family.
Plagued by health problems, Santo died Dec. 3, 2010, at the age of 70. His long battle with diabetes cost him both legs below the knees, but he ultimately died of complications from bladder cancer.
"It was unfortunate that he didn't receive that award while he was living, and he so much warranted it," said former Cubs star Billy Williams, elected to the Hall in 1987. "He won't get the enjoyment (he would have if) he were living and walked up to that podium and received that award."
A five-time Gold Glove-winning third baseman and 11-time 20-homer hitter, Santo became the symbol of Cubs teams that fell just short, especially to the Mets in 1969. In 15 major-league seasons, Santo compiled a .277 batting average, had 2,254 hits, 1,331 RBI and 365 doubles in 2,243 games.
A member of the Cubs organization for the better part of five decades as a player (1960-74) and broadcaster (1990-2010), Santo was selected by the Veterans Committee exactly one year after his death.
Vicki Santo will speak on behalf of her late husband, and her message will be akin to the one that has endeared the late Jim Valvano, the former North Carolina State basketball coach, to millions of people fighting cancer: "To never give up," Vicki Santo said.
"To have this come to him after his passing, it just shows you can't give up, and that's what Ron was all about."
■ Enshrined in a separate ceremony Saturday were former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and longtime broadcaster Tim McCarver, recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, and Toronto Sun beat writer and columnist Bob Elliott, recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.